It's an aspect of the city's campaign finance program that has been attacked by editorial boards, and been used as an argument by Albany Republicans as to why the city's taxpayer matching funds program shouldn't go statewide. The city's campaign finance system is intended to level the playing field for candidates by matching small-dollar contributions with taxpayer money. But often, entrenched incumbents running against minimal opposition can get heavy payouts in public dollars.
In order to get the taxpayer matching funds, a campaign needs to have at least one opponent on the ballot. Under a change in the city charter approved by the voters in 2010, getting on the ballot has become easier, because the number of valid signatures required in various races has been halved.
Candidates have the option of turning down the money. In 2009, for instance, Council Speaker Christine Quinn turned down matching funds in her council reelection campaign, even as her two opponents took them. Ms. Quinn won re-election, and is now running for mayor.
On the other hand, in 2009 Brooklyn Councilman Lew Fidler got more than $88,000 in matching funds for a general election against a poorly funded Republican, and was subsequently knocked by the Daily News editorial board for spending much of it. Mr. Fidler won a third term, although he later lost a state Senate race to a Republican in a larger Brooklyn district.
Meanwhile, some City Council incumbents who are expected to cruise to re-election did fill out forms seeking the maximum amount of taxpayer matching funds and stating they face viable challenges. The list includes Brooklyn Councilwoman Darlene Mealy and Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez.